A Year of Youth Empowerment: Students’ Journey and Looking to the Future
At the beginning of each academic year, students coming into the Learning Center are generally described as shy, reserved, and unsure of themselves. This is not a surprise for the PEPY staff. In fact, Siem Reap employers and business owners site Cambodian youths’ lack of communication and confidence as one of the top issues affecting their hirability. Although it is clearly needed, soft skill development is still overlooked in current education institutions, but, PEPY actively works to fill the gap between what students can offer versus what is expected by their employer.
PEPY Learning Center’s Youth Empowerment Project provides a unique and effective combination of soft skills courses and activities that have shown to vastly improve the self-confidence, team working ability, communication skills, and public speaking skills of our students within 1 year. Such a profound change of behavior may seem unlikely in such a short time, but, visitors observing the students continue to be in awe of their willingness to make conversation and their ability to ask such inquisitive questions, demonstrating their high level of critical thinking. Employers that hire PEPY students also consistently note that they are impressed with the students’ speaking skills and interactions with their coworkers and the public.
As the academic calendar winds down at the Learning Center, Youth Empowerment Officer Kim Ann stated that, “[the] majority of students capacity of students is increasing, and we can say that most of the students will be more than ready to interview and receive skilled employment.”
So, what makes the Youth Empowerment Project so successful?
One reason could be the courses focused on exposing students to new opportunities and creative outlets, expanding their imagination. One such example would be the students trip to the Cambodian Circus this past winter, where they saw the show White Gold. In White Gold, a man and his community experience the harshness of modernization, where money and greed overtake culture, and, they must reassess the true value of rice.
Given their financial and geographical backgrounds, PEPY students had never seen performance art before, and, were amazed to find that art and story telling could be a potential career path. Learning Center student Chanthy called the performance, “real magic.” Students’ ability to think of what is possible for their future was forever changed. Moreover, it provided the students with experiences to share with people from different backgrounds, allowing them to engage further with foreign visitors at the Learning Center and, eventually, in their future work.
The Youth Empowerment Project has also been exceptional at helping the students learn to better express themselves and communicate effectively in English. On multiple occasions, most recently last February, Writing Through organization has come to the Learning Center to run poetry workshops. This involves the scholarship students writing poems and shorts stories, and, eventually sharing their poems with the group. In doing this workshop, all the students felt a sense of achievement from gaining the ability to write poems and share their feelings. Undoubtedly, the students can use this experience going forward to express themselves to others effectively and be more open to feedback in a professional setting.
Perhaps out of all the activities, the most important or impactful are those that focus on character development, team work, and gaining confidence. One such program was conducted recently at Angkor Wall this past July, a rock climbing gym where students attempted to scale a wall for the first time. Initially fearful and unsure of themselves, every student attempted the wall at least once, supporting each other through every step and communicating their individual comfort zones to Anghor Wall staff.
Through this experience, students feel a sense of achievement and believe that they are capable of whatever they put their mind to. This, along similar activities, will lead to students being job applicants that can walk confidently into an interview, being strong members on a team, and not being afraid to go after more challenging and diverse career choices.
While every student may be vastly different from one another in terms of their interests and goals, all students benefit from the programs that they experience in the Youth Empowerment Project. The high number of eclectic activities strategically packed into one year shows that great strides in soft skills are possible in a short time when students can have ownership in the activities. At PEPY, students have and will continue to take Youth Empowerment lessons with them in their future endeavors, finding success and renewed confidence along the way.
In the words of current Learning Center student Lorm Pin, “I learned a lot from Youth Empowerment Project, especially about Goals Setting, Dream, Time and Project Management, Leadership and Job Readiness. These help me a lot in different ways. I used [them] for personal improvement and [to] apply for my daily life. I am confident I will reach my goals.”